Ports to expand role as separate firms


NINE of the State's major harbours are to become commercial companies from March 1st. New 12 member boards for each of the ports will be appointed early in the new year.

The move by the Minister of State for the Marine, Mr Eamon Gilmore, has been given statutory authority under the new Harbours Act. The Act is the first major revision of commercial harbours legislation since 1946.

The nine new harbour companies will be established at Cork, Drogheda, Dublin, Dun Laoghaire, Foynes, Galway, New Ross, Shannon estuary and Waterford.

A similar decision on three further ports Arklow, Dundalk and Wicklow has been deferred, Mr Gilmore said.

"These three have notified us that they would welcome more time to put their structures fully in place," he explained. "The Act specifies that before any port is vested as a commercial company, the Department of the Marine needs to be certain its internal structures and levels of business will enable it not only to survive, but to flourish."

The commercialisation is the latest phase in a £220 million ports investment programme, which has been co financed with the European Union under structural and cohesion funds and the Maritime Inter Regional programme. The new boards will facilitate "independence of action", allowing the ports to engage in joint and private ventures, the Minister said.

"The Harbours Act develops a completely new relationship between the harbour companies and the Department of the Marine, to which they must report," Mr Gilmore said.

"There will be regular performance audits to examine the efficiency and cost effectiveness of each port company. The Act is one of the first pieces of public legislation in Ireland which makes semi-state organisations subject to such audits.

None of the ports has any automatic right of constitution as a commercial company under the new legislation. Preconditions include a sound financial position, and a commitment to meet the financial provisions and requirements of the Act an adequate management structure and an ability to demonstrate that it can cope with, and survive in, its new commercial context. The legislation outlines the powers and duties of the companies, composition of boards, and arrangements for pilotage.

Each company will be allowed to "engage in activities outside the State" related to its harbour functions, to promote trade and tourism interests.

Currently, about 64 per cent of exports passes through the State's ports, and Dublin, Dun Laoghaire, Cork and Rosslare account for 35 per cent of passenger journeys.